Harvard scientist 'obsessed' with anti-aging creates a youth cocktail

"Until recently, the best we could do was slow aging. New discoveries suggest we can now reverse it."
Sejal Sharma
Scientist develops youth cocktail in lab
Scientist develops youth cocktail in lab

1, 2 

A team of researchers at Harvard Medical School has identified six chemical cocktails that have the potential to defy aging and age-related diseases in less than a week.

Previously known to be achieved only via powerful gene therapy, scientists have used a chemical approach to reprogram cells to a younger state. The team also developed and utilized novel screening methods including a quantitative nucleocytoplasmic compartmentalization assay (NCC) that can distinguish between young, old, and senescent cells.

“Until recently, the best we could do was slow aging. New discoveries suggest we can now reverse it,” David A. Sinclair, the lead researcher and the first author of the study, who is somewhat of a controversial figure, said in a statement.

Accused of exaggerated findings

Sinclair published a study in 2006 that claimed that rodents who took resveratrol, a molecule with health benefits, helped in slowing down their age than the ones who did not consume the substance. This was his claim to fame.

Not only did he earn the title of a longevity guru, but he also became insanely rich. His company Sirtris, which experimented in clinical-stage resveratrol drugs, was purchased by GlaxoSmithKline in 2008 for $720 million. But his paper was debunked by Pfizer in 2010 and his research spanning years was challenged.

So, now that Sinclair and his team of researchers are claiming that they have hands on a youth cocktail, perhaps the scientific community would take the latest study with a pinch of salt.

His latest research has even sparked Elon Musk’s interest.

What does the study prove?

Harvard researchers have previously demonstrated that it is indeed possible to reverse cellular aging by virally introducing specific Yamanaka genes into cells. Simply put, Yamanaka factors are a set of four genes that can be used to regenerate old cells or grow new organs, by reprogramming the cells from our body. 

As the researchers noted in the press release, this Nobel Prize-winning discovery raised the question of whether it might be possible to reverse cellular aging without causing cells to become too young and turn cancerous.

The researchers screened for molecules that could reverse cellular aging and rejuvenate human cells. They first distinguished young cells from old cells and identified “six chemical cocktails that restore NCC and genome-wide transcript profiles to youthful states and reverse transcriptomic age in less than a week.”

“Studies on the optic nerve, brain tissue, kidney, and muscle have shown promising results, with improved vision and extended lifespan observed in mice and, recently, a report of improved vision in monkeys,” noted Sinclair in a tweet.

Scientific community casts aspersions

However, biologists are refuting the claims of Sinclair and his team. Matt Kaeberlein, a biogerontologist, told Daily Mail that even though the 'cocktail' may have useful therapeutic properties, there is no direct data in Sinclair's paper that ties evidence to his claims.

"They should have validated at least one of these cocktails in an animal and shown improvements in age-related health metrics or lifespan before making these claims about effects on biological aging," added Kaeberlein.

Another researcher, Dr Charles Brenner, said that the cocktail contained compounds that can put people at risk and are 'generally not safe alone or in a combination'.

While Sinclair has hailed his research as 'a breakthrough discovery', it remains to be seen if his claim will be a hard pill to swallow by the scientific community at large.

Study Abstract:

A hallmark of eukaryotic aging is a loss of epigenetic information, a process that can be reversed. We have previously shown that the ectopic induction of the Yamanaka factors OCT4, SOX2, and KLF4 (OSK) in mammals can restore youthful DNA methylation patterns, transcript profiles, and tissue function, without erasing cellular identity, a process that requires active DNA demethylation. To screen for molecules that reverse cellular aging and rejuvenate human cells without altering the genome, we developed high-throughput cell-based assays that distinguish young from old and senescent cells, including transcription-based aging clocks and a real-time nucleocytoplasmic compartmentalization (NCC) assay. We identify six chemical cocktails, which, in less than a week and without compromising cellular identity, restore a youthful genome-wide transcript profile and reverse transcriptomic age. Thus, rejuvenation by age reversal can be achieved, not only by genetic, but also chemical means.

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